Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Collecting with One's Ears: Open Thread

During a studio visit recently, I had an artist I've known for a number of years ask me point blank what I thought the odds of her selling a 8-foot tall painting she had just completed were. She asked in an open way that suggested I should advise her on how better to strategize in her studio so that the market helped her deplete her growing inventory. (In other words, what should she do with regards to size, etc. so that she would begin selling her work.) She's a very talented painter with a MFA from a top school, but so far the market has not beaten a path to her door.

I told her what I honestly believe, that each painting should be the size it must be to be conceptually sound. Then I told her what I see to be the reality of the market. It often all depends on whether you get "a name" or not. If you're relying on the foot soldiers, so to speak, among collectors---those who pound the pavement and seek out the newest of the new in the out-of-the-way spaces and who are daring enough to buy work by unknown artists---many (if not most) of them don't have the kind of space (or money) to buy work that large. If you do catch on, though, it's important to know that a good number of the bigger collectors (those with the money and space to let size be a more minor consideration for them) "buy with their ears." At that point, if you really want to sell, you better have a bunch in the same series though (same size range, same vocabulary range, same conceptual range, etc.) because that's what those who buy with their ears will want...one like the one so-and-so has.

This phenomenon is a constant source of frustration for me.

There is a collector who's widely known to collect "challenging" art. He prides himself on it and is only to happy to tell you so. To get work into his collection is something good for my artists though, so despite nearly insufferably arrogant and rude behavior on his part, I'm as professional as I can be when we meet. Depending on who else is in the room, he may or may not recall that he recognizes me (that sort, you know). Anyway, at an art fair a few years back, this collector made an incredibly snide and dismissive comment about the work of an artist I was exhibiting. Truly, it was the rudest thing anyone's ever said about work I show to my face.

A short time later, that artist's work really took off, got into several important collections, and there's now a waiting list for it. This same rude collector then had a change of heart and decided to look at the artist again.

I don't care if a collector doesn't "get" work and so doesn't buy it, but then after some consideration realizes there was something there that's now appealing. I think that's a normal process within collecting. What disappoints me is collectors who don't learn to develop and then trust their eye. What pisses me off is those who are so committed to buying with their ears that they assume anyone they haven't heard of yet can't be any good. Consider this an open thread.

12 Comments:

Anonymous crionna said...

I guess collecting is just a different world, but I can't imagine buying something that doesn't just "strike" you.

Sometimes I wonder about the red dots though. I don't think that the guy we go to red dots unsold work to generate a buzz at openings*, but I guess it would make sense.

We buy what we must in the price range we can afford (sometimes).

Re: your collector Ed, does he seem the sort to remember a favor? If so, perhaps setting aside your anger about him would gain you a worthy ally and get a piece sold at an exorbitant price ;)

*In fact I recall once arriving late to an opening (just before the end) and after 15 minutes or so bought a couple of works. Our guy sprinted out the door after the artist who had just left since nothing had sold to get him back to say Hi.

6/14/2005 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

your collector Ed, does he seem the sort to remember a favor? If so, perhaps setting aside your anger about him would gain you a worthy ally and get a piece sold at an exorbitant price ;)

I know you're right, crionna...in fact I've edited this post three times since publishing it, toning down the anger and the toning it back up again.

In the end, the overriding factor for me is what's good for my artists, so I'll swallow my pride and do what's right for them. And of course, I shouldn't assume I know why someone makes a rude comment or assume that they meant it to sound as rude as I took it either.

Still, I don't have much respect for collectors who buy with their ears... as you note but I can't imagine buying something that doesn't "strike" you.

6/14/2005 11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Macallan said...

Collector's who 'buy with ears' I would imagine fall into two categories. One, would be those who do it as a market activity, they buy art not because they love it, but because they see it as an appreciating asset with a payoff down the road. The other would be people who lack confidence in their own intuition regarding the art itself and likely need the validation of others to justify the purchase. However, the second type is not in the least bit unique to art and that sort of trait manifests itself in lots of consumer behavior. I think it is one of the drivers that turned everyone from Coco Chanel to Ralph Lauren from designers into brands.

I can see why both types would be annoying in their own way.

6/14/2005 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

One, would be those who do it as a market activity, they buy art not because they love it, but because they see it as an appreciating asset with a payoff down the road. The other would be people who lack confidence in their own intuition regarding the art itself and likely need the validation of others to justify the purchase.

I'd say that's fair. Many in the second category don't seem to think they are though...it's amusing and annoying.

6/14/2005 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

hmmmmmm :)))
do i smell some gossip there huh???

6/14/2005 03:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

do i smell some gossip there huh???

uh huh...I'll tell you at home!

e

6/14/2005 03:49:00 PM  
Anonymous cryptonite said...

No fair! SHare please.

6/14/2005 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

sorry cryptonite, I think crionna's right...the best thing for me to do with this collector is take the high road...he may yet turn out to be someone I end up liking

if you guess, however, I might "deny" who it is in varying (i.e., telling) degrees... ;-)

6/14/2005 05:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Macallan said...

Is his last name also a trade?

6/14/2005 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

a trade?

You mean like Butcher?

6/14/2005 07:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Macallan said...

Yeah like Butcher, but not Butcher.

6/14/2005 08:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

hmmm...let me think about that one...collector whose last name is a trade...not a brand, eh? (which is not a clue, btw)

6/14/2005 10:25:00 PM  

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